Sikkim – A Monastic View

Situated in the eastern Himalayas, Sikkim is a popular destination whether for leisure or solitude.

Home to over 200 monasteries, a visit to a monastery in Sikkim is a good way to soothe your soul. Buddhism is said to have been introduced in Sikkim around the 8th century.

Several monasteries in Sikkim exemplify the intensity of Buddhist architecture.

Wise Words

Enchey Monastery

The Enchey Monastery is a 200-year-old abode of the protecting deities Kanchendzonga and Yabdean. The walls of the interior prayer hall are covered with paintings and murals of the four religious kings who are the deities of the four cardinal directions.

Window at Enchey Monastery

Traditional techniques of carving and painting are used at most monasteries. This ornately carved and painted window adorns the Prayer Hall of Enchey Monastery. Windows facing west are usually framed in black to keep demons away.

Tashi Taghai

Tashi Taghai is a set of eight auspicious symbols. The wheel represents motion and change referring to overcoming obstacles and illusions. The conch symbolizes the spread of the teachings of the Dharma thereby awakening us from a slumber of ignorance. The endless knot, without a beginning or an end, represents inter-relatedness in the web of karma. It represents Buddha's endless compassion and wisdom.

Prayer Wheel

Prayer wheels are spun to spread spiritual blessings and well being. The primary goal is to relieve the miseries of all beings. Buddhists usually recite "Om Mani Padme Hum" [the six-syllable mantra of loving kindness and compassion, also inscribed on a prayer wheel] as they spin the prayer wheels.

Prayer wheels are spun clockwise because: a) the mantras on a wheel will pass a viewer in the order that they would need to be read, b) the rotation follows the direction of the sun, and c) the direction matches the clockwise circumambulation around a religious object, ceremony, or pilgrimage.

Wall Painting at Rumtek Monastery

This wall at Rumtek Monastery depicts the Buddha. Prayer wheels adorn the top.

Rumtek Monastery

Originally built in the mid-1700s, the Rumtek Monastery is the largest monastery in Sikkim. Inside the monastery, a golden stupa [a Buddhist shrine in a dome-shaped structure] contains the relics of the 16th Karmapa. [A Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism.]

Colorful Windows Rumtek Monastery

While modern buildings at the Rumtek Monastery use steel and concrete, wood plays an important role in construction and architecture. Upper levels of buildings are usually reserved for monks and dignitaries.

Enroute to Nathula Pass

In addition to obtaining a Restricted Area Permit to enter Sikkim, few areas in the eastern region are open to tourists, given its borders with China and Bhutan. Nathula Pass is an offshoot of the ancient Silk Road and accessible only to Indian citizens.

Tsomgo Lake

Situated at 12,310 feet, Tsomgo lake derives its water from the melting snows of the surrounding mountains. The lake is associated with myths and legends, and is considered sacred by the people of Sikkim. Yak rides are popular at Tsomgo Lake. [Photo by JB]

View of Mt. Kanchendzonga

At 28,169 feet, Mt. Kanchendzonga [or Kangchenjunga] is the third highest mountain in the world. In 1955, the first expedition stopped short of the summit as a word of honor given to the Chogyal [Monarch of Sikkim, before Sikkim became a state of India] so that the top of the mountain would remain inviolate. It is believed that every climber since 1955 continues to honor the tradition.

Hay

In Sikkim and other parts of India, hay is collected in stacks rather than bales like in most Western countries. What is usually a tall and large collection of hay, the stack shrinks as bundles of hay are pulled from the bottom and given to cows.

As prayer flags flutter in the wind, they spread compassion and goodwill into all pervading space.